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Bargain hunting in Lakewood-Balmoral

filed under: Andersonville, Buyers, Chicago home prices, Market conditions, Neighborhoods posted on October 18th, 2011

LAKEWOOD

A FADED BEAUTY: This rundown 5-bedroom house in Andersonville's historic Lakewood-Balmoral district is now priced at just $580,000. It's been on the market for five months.

It’s quite rare to find a house for sale in Andersonville’s beautiful Lakewood-Balmoral historic district for under $1 million. But every real estate downturn has an upside, and today there are several homes — including a genuine fixer-upper — priced closer to the half-million mark here.

The handyman’s special, a dilapidated three-story, turn-of-the-century Victorian complete with a turret, is in such lousy shape that the realtor didn’t bother to post any interior photos. “Not in move-in condition,” the listing advises. “Ideal for complete rehab or build new.” Located at 5453 N Magnolia, this 5-bedroom home has already been on the market for five months and is currently priced at $580,000 (a screaming deal for Lakewood-Balmoral, where a similar home in restored condition would fetch perhaps $1.4 million.)

On the same block, another faded beauty — this one with a third-floor ballroom in need of major work — is for sale at $675,000. Located at 5426 N Magnolia, this 1901 house retains some of its original splendor (the photos depict gorgeous wainscoting and stained glass in the dining room) but, again, the listing warns off casual house hunters. “House needs work, serious investors only,” it says. This home recently went under contract, after more than 6 months on the market.

And right across the street (what is it with this block?) there’s another home for sale, this one a brick 1906 house that looks a bit like a 2-flat from the outside. Priced at $720,000, it has just 3 bedrooms (plus one in the basement), but it also boasts the original staircase, leaded glass windows and built-in cabinetry. It’s been updated, with a newer kitchen and partially finished basement, and it’s been on the market since June.

Recent sales indicate that Lakewood-Balmoral bargains are often quickly snapped up. An updated 4-bedroom at 5410 N Wayne sold for $665,000 in May, while another updated 4-bedroom — this one at 5441 N Wayne on an extra-wide lot with a finished basement — sold for $750,000.

So if you’re in the market for a historic home in one of Chicago’s nicest neighborhoods, now is an uncommonly good time to make your move.

Written by Sue Fox // Please leave a comment.

A Chicago conundrum: Buyers hesitate while sellers balk

filed under: Buyers, Chicago home prices, Chicago home sales, Lakeview, Market conditions posted on October 12th, 2011

A LONG YEAR: This

A LONG YEAR: This 2-bedroom, 2-bath vintage top-floor unit in Wrigleyville spent a year on the market before it sold for $339,250 in September. In a typical pattern for many Chicago sellers, it was overpriced and then reduced (in this case, four times, starting at $409,000.) According to public records, the owners bought near the top of the market in 2006, paying $402,000. They endured roughly an $85,000 loss, if you include the closing costs and realtor fees. Many owners can't afford to stomach such numbers, so they decide not to sell.

This has been an odd and uncertain year for Chicago real estate. Deals are still getting done, but absolutely every element has to be in place in order to get to the closing table. As a realtor on the ground day in and day out, I have seen some strange standoffs unfolding this year, with both buyers and sellers hesitating at crucial moments and sometimes deciding to stay put. No wonder sales are so scarce!

Here is what I’m observing from buyers: There is little urgency. With mortgage rates hovering at a record low of 4% and home prices in the gutter, most would-be buyers realize this is a golden moment to buy a home. However, they are also somewhat casual about the opportunity, since from their perspective this has been going on for at least a couple years. Neither interest rates nor home prices seem to be in any danger of quickly shooting up, so what’s the hurry?

In the last few months, I have witnessed at least five buyers wade halfway into a deal, only to change their minds. I have had some buyers who are pretty sure they want to make an offer, only to reconsider and decide against it. Others look around for a couple months and then opt to keep renting for another year. I have even seen two buyers (neither of whom I was representing; in both cases I was the seller’s agent) who wrote up offers and then, for lack of a better word, freaked out. One went so far as to negotiate a price and then refused to sign the contract, while the other actually did sign the contract — and then a day later changed his mind. Under the attorney review period, he was still able to withdraw from the deal.

Things look mighty different, on the other hand, from the point of view of many sellers. I can’t tell you how many listing appointments I’ve gone on this year where — once I explained the recent comps and showed the owners what their home was likely to sell for — they suddenly realized just how bleak their situation was. I met with one lovely woman last week who exclaimed, “Oh my god, Sue! I knew the market was bad. But I had no idea how bad it was.”

Yes, it really is bad. As in, your home is probably worth 10-35% LESS than what you paid for it, depending on what year you bought it and where it is located. In real terms, this means that sellers who paid $330,000 in 2007 can’t even sell for $285,000. Sellers who bought for $230,000 in 2005 (and put $15,000 in upgrades) would likely have to list their condo for less than $200,000 to get a bite. Owners who paid $450,000 in 2005 sold the same place this year for $95,000 less. I just checked the comps for someone who paid more than $220,000 six years ago in a building where similar units are now selling for $100,000 to $160,000, depending on the condition.

It is routine for sellers to be faced with a diabolical choice such as: Do you want to stay in the cramped two-bedroom condo you have outgrown now that you have a new baby, or do you want to bring $50,000 to closing in order to pay off your lender and closing costs? Many, many people do not have the tens of thousands it would take to close the deal. So they stay put, they decide to rent out their place, they attempt a short sale with their lender, or they overprice their home and stick it on the market anyway, hoping someone out there will pay them not what it’s worth, but what they owe.

Thus, as the winter season approaches, we have a standoff. Many Chicago sellers desperately want to sell, but they simply can’t afford to lower their asking prices to the point where a buyer would be interested. Many buyers theoretically want to buy, but only if they find a place they adore at a price that can’t be beat.

Written by Sue Fox // Please leave a comment.

Yikes! Chicago home prices drop 37% since 2007

filed under: Buyers, Chicago home prices, Chicago home sales, Market conditions, Sellers posted on September 23rd, 2011

DOWN IN UPTOWN:

WAY DOWN IN UPTOWN: This 3-bedroom, 2-bath condo, located at 4857 N Winthrop #2S in Uptown, sold for $345,000 as new construction in 2003. Eight years later, it is on the market at $250,000. The condo, which went under contract in July, is now a short sale -- meaning the owner owes the bank more than it's worth. Home prices in Chicago have fallen a stunning 37% citywide since August 2007. Such a massive drop pushes thousands of Chicago homeowners underwater, signaling that more short sales and foreclosures are ahead.

Unfortunately for all Chicago homeowners, the median Chicago home price has plunged over the past four years. According to data just released by the Illinois Assn. of Realtors, the median price was just $192,500 in August, a drop of nearly 4% since last August. Now, a 4% drop doesn’t sound so terrible… but remember, this decrease comes on top of several years worth of steeper declines. Chicago home prices have fallen an astounding 37% since August 2007.

Check out the median price decline:

  • August 2007: $305,000
  • August 2008: $297,500
  • August 2009: $229,900
  • August 2010: $200,000
  • August 2011: $192,500

Like most realtors, I encounter a lot of sellers who know that “the market is bad” but somehow cling to the hope that maybe their home is still worth what they paid for it, or at least what they still owe. They want to price their Chicago condo or house based on whatever number they calculate will protect them from financial harm.

But if you bought your home anytime in the last five years chances are very good that it is worth considerably less than you paid for it. A realtor can look up the recent sales in your neighborhood and give you a decent idea of just how much less. But even in North Side communities like Uptown, Andersonville and Edgewater, prices overall are down at least 20%. Irving Park, Albany Park, Logan Square, the South Loop and Rogers Park are in even worse shape (particularly Rogers Park, an area decimated by foreclosures where sale prices have dropped more than 60% in recent years). Lincoln Square, Bucktown, Wicker Park, and Lakeview have generally held up better, but they have still taken a haircut.

The volume of home sales is up over last summer, but that number is deceptive because last summer — right after the home buyer’s tax credit had expired — few people were buying homes. In the city of Chicago, home sales totaled 1,787 for August 2011, an increase of 20.3% over last August. But when you look at the number of homes sold each August since 2007, you’ll see sales have fallen too — by about 39%.

  • August 2007: 2923 sales
  • August 2008: 2078 sales
  • August 2009: 1927 sales
  • August 2010: 1486 sales
  • August 2011: 1787 sales

All things considered, the Chicago market is in pretty dreadful shape, with both sales and prices down nearly 40% in four years. Sellers need to be ruthless in their home pricing and spotless in their home staging to attract a buyer, and for most people who bought their home in recent years it’s useless to imagine selling for what they paid or what they owe. Those numbers have no bearing on what their home is actually worth in today’s crippled market.

Written by Sue Fox // Please leave a comment.

Chicago sales above $5 million? Count them on your fingers

filed under: Chicago home prices, Chicago home sales, Downtown, Gold Coast, Lincoln Park posted on September 16th, 2011

THE TOAST OF THE COAST: This Gold Coast mansion, located at 25

THE TOAST OF THE COAST: This 18-room Gold Coast mansion, located at 25 E Banks Street, finally sold for $6.8 million last October -- about half its original asking price. It was one of only three single-family houses to sell for more than $5 million in Chicago during the past 12 months.

When it comes to truly high-end real estate, Chicago is worlds away from New York. While the Big Apple has dozens of properties that sell for multiple millions, it’s exceedingly rare to find homes in the Windy City that close for $5 million or more.

How rare? Over the past year, only three single-family homes in the entire city of Chicago have sold for upwards of $5 million, according to  Midwest Real Estate Data LLC. Another five houses went for $4 million to $5 million. The most expensive Chicago house to sell was 25 Banks Street, a 13,500-square foot Gold Coast mansion built in 1880. Located a block from the lake, it boasted 8 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, a media room, a wine vault, staff quarters with a separate entrance, and a rooftop terrace. But even this grandeur came at a bargain price: $6.8 million, about half its original price tag of $13.5 million after more than three years on the market.

Of course, there were also seven Chicago condos that sold for upwards of $5 million over the past year. With the exception of one, they were all at the Elysian, the new luxury building located at 11 E Walton Street. (The other was a top-floor penthouse located above the Four Seasons Hotel at 132 E Delaware Place.) At $8.6 million, the priciest condo cost more than the most expensive house — and both were cash deals, as were the majority of all the $5 million-and-up sales. Hmmmm, I was just wondering what to do with that $5 million just sitting in my bank account…

In any case, multi-million dollar sales of any sort are a rare breed in Chicago. There were only 50 single-family houses and 75 condos that sold for $2 million or more citywide (mainly in the Gold Coast, Streeterville or Lincoln Park) over the past year. On the North Shore, moreover, there were 86 homes that sold for over $2 million, but only six that fetched more than $5 million.

Written by Sue Fox // Please leave a comment.

Luxury homes resist price cuts in Bucktown & Wicker Park

filed under: Bucktown, Buyers, Chicago home prices, Wicker Park posted on September 13th, 2011

$400K OFF SALE! This

$650K OFF SALE! This Wicker Park 4-bedroom home, completely renovated with "absolute top of the line everything," was originally priced at $1,850,000 when it hit the market last summer. But by April, the sellers had seen the light, reducing the price to $1,350,000. It closed in June for $1,200,000 -- a $650,000 reduction off the initial price.

There are 28 houses, many of them new construction, currently for sale at prices above $1 million in Bucktown, Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village. But despite many months — sometimes more than a year — on the market, the majority of these sellers seem reluctant to lower their prices. Some are surely developers who built spec houses and now don’t want to face the fact that the depressed market has sliced deeply into their hoped-for profits.

Only 13 of the 28 have cut their prices, a ratio far less than the local average. Two-thirds of home sellers in Illinois reduce their asking prices, according to data collected by the Illinois Assn. of Realtors. Home sellers in Chicago, a region hit hard by foreclosures, typically post the largest price reductions in the state.

But at the top of the market in popular Bucktown and its neighboring areas, you’ll find houses like 2556 W Huron Street, a 4-bedroom renovated greystone for $1.3 million that’s been on the market for two and a half years without a price reduction. Or 2032 W Ohio Street, a 7000-square-foot mansion with 5 bedrooms, 20-foot ceilings and a huge roof deck, all spread over two city lots. It’s been stubbornly priced at $1,685,000 for a whole year.

Others are more recent listings, with no price reductions all summer and into the fall. Or there are homes like 1232 N Hoyne Avenue, a modern 6-bedroom with an elevator, two playrooms and a screening room, which has been priced at $1,699,000 for more than nine months (it did have one price cut before that, from $1,749,000.)

While I agree that Bucktown and Wicker Park are wonderful, hip places to live, it’s simply not realistic to leave these overpriced luxury homes languishing on the market. If they are not selling after months online, by definition they are priced too high. And over the past four months, only three of these million-plus houses have closed. Three out of 28… That’s a pretty low ratio.

So if you are shopping for a high-end house in Bucktown and its environs, I wouldn’t put too much stock in these lofty price tags. All three of the homes that actually sold, after all, went for $175,000 to $650,000 less than their original prices.

Written by Sue Fox // Please leave a comment.

Chicago home sales up since last July

filed under: Buyers, Chicago home prices, Chicago home sales, Edgewater, First-time buyers, Lakeview, Market conditions posted on August 23rd, 2011

EDGEWATER

SLOW GOING IN EDGEWATER: Condo sales are faring better in more central neighborhoods with well-developed business districts like Lakeview and Lincoln Park. But further north in Edgewater, it's gotten increasingly tough to sell a condo. This 2-bedroom duplex-down condo on Balmoral Ave. is finally under contract after more than a year on the market. It is priced at $255,000 and does not include parking.

The latest Chicago housing data is out, covering the month of July, and it looks like both sales volume and prices have climbed slightly compared to last July. (But before you imagine a real estate rebound, remember that last summer Chicago home sales were in the gutter, once the federal tax credit for buyers expired. So things can only go up from there!)

Anyway, there were 1,655 home sales in the city of Chicago (single-family houses and condos) in July, an increase of 4.2% over the previous year. And the median home price in July 2011 was $210,000 — up 6.9% compared to the previous year.

“This is the first month, year-over-year, where we are without a federal tax credit and are encouraged by July’s sales, hopefully a positive outlook for the remainder of 2011,” said Mabel Guzman, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors. “There is an ongoing absorption of units throughout the city, specifically in the performance of the condo market over 2010, as well as compared to 2009.”

Some neighborhoods are obviously selling better than others. In Lakeview, for example, a popular area that is home to Wrigley Field and close to both the lake and downtown, there are now 260 condos for sale with 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. Another 64 of these condos are under contract (pending sale), and 122 have closed in the past three months. That’s a pretty good ratio in this market, with closed sales at roughly half the number of active listings. Condos in Lakeview, in other words, are selling.

Now consider Edgewater, another lakeside neighborhood just a couple miles north. There are 137 condos for sale right now that feature 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. Another 28 are under contract. But just 45 have closed in the past three months  — a much worse ratio than in Lakeview. The closed sales don’t even amount to a third of the number of active listings in Edgewater.

Unfortunately, I’ve been witnessing sluggish condo sales in other northern neighborhoods, like Lincoln Square, Andersonville and Uptown. With condo buyers scarce in 2011, many of them seem to be opting to live in areas that are closer to the Loop. For first-time home buyers (or anyone else with cash or good credit), this is an excellent time to snag a great deal in the most coveted, central parts of Chicago.

Written by Sue Fox // Please leave a comment.

Mortgage interest rates at record lows

filed under: Bungalows, Buyers, Chicago home prices, Irving Park, Market conditions posted on August 22nd, 2011

IRVING PARK: This pretty frame bungalow, currently priced atHOME SWEET HOME IN IRVING PARK? This pretty frame bungalow, now priced at $285,000, has been on the market for nearly a year. At today’s interest rates, it would cost about $1,383 per month to live here (including property taxes and insurance) for a buyer who put 20% down. Five years ago, a similarly priced home would have cost $1,716 per month due to mortgage rates hovering around 6.5%.

Despite all the volatility in the stock and bond markets, mortgage rates are now at their lowest point in more than 50 years. The average 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell to 4.15% last week, according to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey. Rates have been below 5% for awhile now; previously, the record low (set last November) was 4.17%.

The extra-low interest rates make home buying more affordable than ever, particularly in Chicago, where home prices have dropped more than 30% in recent years. If you’re wondering where to find these rates locally, Guaranteed Rate is one Chicago lender now offering a 4.15% rate on a 30-year fixed loan, while a 15-year fixed mortgage can be had even cheaper: 3.525%. The rate for 5-year adjustable rate mortgage is just 3.125%.

Money to buy a home — if you can qualify for the loan! — is now incredibly cheap. It’s hard to find even a car loan or a student loan with such rock-bottom rates, let alone a mortgage. Mortgage rates closely track yields on U.S. Treasury bonds, which have also dipped. The 10-year note hit a record low on Thursday, falling below 2 percent to 1.99 percent.

If you’ve been considering buying a home (whether to live in yourself, as a second home, a home for your child or as an investment property to fix up and sell — all of which I’ve had buyers recently searching for)  now may be the time to act. It is rare to find both interest rates and prices simultaneously so low.

Written by Sue Fox // Please leave a comment.

Rental prices rising in Chicago

filed under: Buyers, Chicago home prices, South Loop posted on August 7th, 2011

HIKING THE RENT: This South Loop 2-bedroom at

HIKING THE RENT: This South Loop 2-bedroom at 1620 S Michigan is listed for rent at $1695 per month. The same unit rented for $100 less last summer. Would it be cheaper to buy? In this case, yes! Similar units are selling for about $160,000 -- which makes owning cheaper than renting here.

If super-low home prices and interest rates aren’t enough to persuade you to make the jump from renting to owning, maybe this will: Rents are climbing throughout the Chicago area.

The average rent for a Chicago one-bedroom apartment has increased nearly 9% in 2011 while two-bedroom rents have jumped more than 5%, according to ApartmentRatings.com, a website where renters exchange information about apartments. Meanwhile, an article in today’s Chicago Tribune reported that “a stew of factors, including the foreclosure rate, uncertainty about jobs and sheer demographics, have driven rental demand (and rents) to levels not seen in years.”

The average asking price of a Chicago one-bedroom apartment is now $1,236; a two-bedroom is $1,736; and a three-bedroom is $2,204. According to the Tribune, some of the most expensive neighborhoods were those closest to downtown: the West Loop, with an average rental price of $1,991; Streeterville ($1,981); River West ($1,954); the Loop ($1,935); and the South Loop ($1,875).

“You see it all across the board,” said David Vivero, chief executive of RentJuice, a company that provides services for landlords in Chicago, New York, Miami and Boston. “You have prices circling up. We’re seeing fewer incentives being given. Fewer brokerages are working (to market) some of the high-rises because they’re filling up more. The supply hasn’t moved as much as demand has increased,” he told the Tribune.

I sometimes see prospective buyers wavering about whether to buy a home or continue to rent. Buyers certainly need to be sure that their jobs are stable, that they have some savings and that they plan to stay in Chicago for a good while (I recommend five years, at a minimum.) But with home prices now at a 10-year low, I can certainly find you a condo to buy that will cost the same — or less — than it would to rent a similar apartment.

Written by Sue Fox // Please leave a comment.

The sweet spot for Bucktown condos

filed under: Bucktown, Buyers, Chicago home prices posted on July 27th, 2011

A TRUE LOFT IN BUCKTOWN:

A TRUE LOFT IN BUCKTOWN: This two-level loft in the heart of Bucktown illustrates why it makes sense to price your condo in the range where buyers are buying. Originally listed for $399,000 in March 2010, it sat on the market for eight months. By the following spring, the sellers had re-listed this 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo with garage parking at $349,900 -- the sweet spot for Bucktown condos. It sold within a month, and closed in April for $321,000.

These days, selling a Chicago condo is almost all about pricing. I was doing a search recently for some Bucktown buyers when I came across some interesting data for the neighborhood, suggesting that there is a sweet spot for Bucktown (and Wicker Park) condo pricing: between $300,000 and $350,000.

Over the past year, more condos in West Town (the MLS area that includes Bucktown, Wicker Park, and River West)  — 137 of them, to be exact — sold in this price range than at any other price point. Another 109 condos sold at prices between $350,000 and $400,000.

Since a total of 691 condos were sold here over the last 12 months, that means more than a third of them went for somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000.Why does this matter? Every property is different, of course, but the price distribution gives you a pretty good idea of the competition. In a relatively cool market, it helps to know that the hottest action is happening in the low $300s. If you want to sell in Bucktown or Wicker Park, it may make sense to price your condo at $349,000 and aim for a quick sale rather than starting at $400,000 and waiting for buyers to materialize.

Buyers are scarce these days, especially for big-ticket items. For example, only 80 condos sold for more than $500,000 in the past year in all of West Town. It makes sense; these days you can find a single-family house for that price in many desirable  Chicago neighborhoods.

Written by Sue Fox // Please leave a comment.

Chicago home prices & sales fall in June

filed under: Buyers, Chicago home prices, Chicago home sales, Market conditions posted on July 24th, 2011

THE

THE MEDIAN PRICE: What can you get for $207,000, the median home price in Chicago? Try this 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo located on Winthrop Ave. in Uptown. Featuring a large master suite, deeded parking and a huge outdoor deck, it sold several weeks ago after three years on and off the market (and several price reductions.)

The Chicago real estate market continues to struggle. In June, according to the latest data from the Illinois Assn. of Realtors, both the median price and the number of home sales fell considerably compared with the previous year.

This is more good news for Chicago buyers, and equally bad news for sellers. The median price for single-family homes and condominiums in June was $207,000, down 11.6% compared to $234,250 in June 2010.

And far fewer homes traded hands this June, primarily because last year we were still seeing the helpful effects of the federal tax credits for buyers, which inflated home sales. Home sales totaled 1,841 in June 2011, a dramatic 27.1% drop from the 2,526 homes sold during the same month last year.

Home prices and sales were also down statewide. Illinois home prices sank 11.7%, on par with Chicago’s numbers. But home sales across the state declined less than they did in the urban areas, dropping 16.3% over the past year.

The high number of foreclosures in Chicago — our city is now ranked #1 nationwide in foreclosed properties — continues to muddle the hopes of a local real estate recovery. “In the coming months, we will be observing the economic pressures which will likely lead to an increase in distressed assets to the market,” predicted Mabel Guzman, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors.

If you are considering buying a home, the forecast appears sunny for the foreseeable future. Rates on 30-year fixed mortgages are now hovering at 4.5% in the Chicago area, prices are back at levels last seen a decade ago, and there are plenty of foreclosures keeping a lid on price increases. Buying a home is now just as affordable as renting in Chicago, plus it gives you a significant tax break and the chance to build equity rather than just forking over thousands of dollars to your landlord every year.

Written by Sue Fox // Please leave a comment.